DOVER – It’s a Friday afternoon in December, and most of the students at Holy Cross School have taken off for the weekend. But in a room in the school’s Early Childhood Center, some 70 first- through eighth-graders have gathered in the season of giving to help those who could really use some.
At tables throughout the large room, students laughed and talked as they knitted winter hats. Atop two desks, a pile of hats in a variety of colors steadily grew; there would be more than 100 by the time the meeting ended.
The students are members of the Holy Cross Knitting Club, which formed in September after a pair of second-grade girls made news through their knitting-related charitable work. Interest in the club was higher than anticipated, and the students — there are some boys in the club — have committed to producing hundreds of knit caps for area hospitals and charities.
“I was like, what? I couldn’t believe my eyes,” second-grader Reagan Garnsey said when so many children showed up for the first meeting.
The club’s popularity also caught Reagan’s friend and co-inspiration for the club, Montana Johannsen, by surprise. Montana said she was “shocked” by the numbers, especially by “the boys who committed to do the Knitting Club.”
The seeds for the club were planted last Christmas when Reagan received a loom knitting kit from her younger sister, Payton, said Reagan’s mother, Angie, who is the moderator. Reagan wanted to knit hats for newborns at Bayhealth Medical Center across South State Street from Holy Cross. That was possible, but for a variety of reasons, there was no way for the knitters to meet the recipients. Bayhealth suggested Reagan make hats for the patients at the hospital’s cancer center.
Reagan loved the idea and recruited Montana to help her knit hats for adult cancer patients. Late last winter, the girls donated approximately 20 hats to the Bayhealth Cancer Center, which is affiliated with the University of Pennsylvania’s Penn Cancer Network. The donation earned Reagan and Montana a Jefferson Award, given “to identify and celebrate local unsung heroes who serve in our communities across the country,” according to the Jefferson Awards Foundation website.
“Word got back to the school that they were doing this, and they approached us and said, ‘Hey, would you be interested in forming a knitting club?’” Angie Garnsey said. “So, basically it all started with one loom, and here we are, 72 kids on board.”
The response was more than what she expected. No experience was necessary, and the students have learned from their peers who have knitted and through online videos.
The group tries to meet twice a month, although Garnsey said it’s evident that the students are working on hats at home because the number of hats donated to area organizations is more than what could be produced during the club’s meetings.
“You’ve gotten the opportunity to see the energy and commitment that these kids bring. It’s great.
“It has totally blossomed. This takes time. A hat can take anywhere from an hour to three hours, and they’re only meeting two times a month for an hour, an hour and 15 minutes. So they’re definitely doing stuff at home. Their parents are getting involved. There’s that buy-in from the kids. Every time they come to a meeting, they’re bringing a hat. They are walking in this door and they’re raising their hands because they can’t wait to turn a hat in,” Garnsey said.
In addition to Bayhealth, the students have presented hats to the B+ Foundation, which received 32, one for each of its cancer heroes for 2014; and to UDance, the student-run organization that raises money and awareness for childhood cancer.
On Dec. 12, an alopecia support group in Wilmington received 15 hats, and the next day, six children traveled to Philadelphia to present 102 to the Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation for Childhood Cancer. There are plans to distribute approximately 100 hats before the end of the calendar year to several organizations, including A.I. DuPont Hospital for Children, the Ronald McDonald House, Caring Caps and the World Vision Knit for Kids Project, Garnsey said.
Fourth-grader Navya Garg said she didn’t know anything about knitting when she joined the club, but now she’s pretty good at it.
“It’s really easy. I like to take it slow so I can make it a good hat,” she said. “It makes me feel good because I get to make hats for the people that need them the most.”
Navya also likes the possibilities that knitting presents. She is not limited to hats, but could knit “a scarf, anything you want.”
Reagan said she finds knitting relaxing and a good way to spend time with her friends, “but you also know that you’re helping somebody when you’re doing it.” Receiving the Jefferson Award made her feel “like I was part of something big, and I was helping somebody.”
Her mother smiled as she took it all in, as the children worked toward a common goal among the laughter and chaos. “It’s just a great experience, not just as an adviser but as a parent. It’s, hands-down, one of the best things I’ve ever agreed to do.”